When I think of my dad, who died 17 years ago, I rarely think about music. Mom was the big music fan in our family. My uncles Roy and David introduced me to a lot of music. When I think Dad, I think NFL football, cold Miller Lite, praying the Holy Rosary in the car on the way to work and toiling at the 9 to 5 to take care of one’s family. Most of all, I recall how he’d have Mom call to chat breezily with me for two minutes before handing him the phone so he could tell me something I needed to do.
“Hey,” he’d start, “I’m gonna need you to,” then some errand to run or important business I had to handle would follow. I really miss that. In those moments they were a perfect tag team, Mom setting me up with maternal niceties and suddenly passing me over to Pops and his list of to-dos.
Since Father’s Day is approaching, I’m allowing myself the fantasy of fielding one of those calls today. Mom — who IRL died 11 months after Dad passed — rings me up and asks if I’m eating right and exercising, inquires about my wife, wants to know if the kids need anything from their ‘buelita. Then, as I’m responding, she abruptly says, “Hold on, your dad wants to talk with you.”
“Hey,” he’d say today, “I’m gonna need you to write something for me. Nothing crazy. Don’t do 1,800 words and drive your editor nuts. Just something to express that I too love music. I know you haven’t thought of me as a music lover in years, but if you really focus you’ll see I was into it, too. Maybe while you’re doing that you’ll find a way for readers to honor their dads through music. That’s what I’m gonna need from you, Bip.”
Never mind why my nickname was “Bip” – all these years later, my instinct is to jump into action for him. So, that’s what I’m doing today, thinking about the music my dad loved and maybe reminding you that your dad loves music, too. Or, if you’re the dad now, maybe you’ll consider sharing the music you love with your own kids. That’s how we keep the music thing going. If you need some help, I got you covered there, too.
When I was really young, we had many records in the house but I don’t ever remember any kids’ music. As grade schoolers, we listened to Little Joe y La Familia, Sunny Ozuna, James Brown and a bunch of Motown artists. A favorite was Otis Redding. The day Redding died, the legend goes, Mom and Dad cried like they'd lost a blood relative.
We didn’t own any Disney music or even a copy of “Puff, The Magic Dragon.” So, I can only guess whether Pops would have enjoyed Uncle Jumbo, who specializes in children's music. Our wood-framed stereo console never had any children’s music in its deep bin, but even if it had it surely would not have been as hip as what Houston’s favorite Uncle is doing today. Check out Uncle J’s new video, “One Big Family,” which released earlier this month, for example. The song – from the approaching album Taste the Sky – is about unity, joy, connection and kindness, all Uncle Jumbo trademarks and nice things for dads to pass along to their kids. I think Pops would have dug it. Uncle Jumbo is also a dad and his daughter’s art is showcased in the video. That’s something all fathers could love, right?
Dad was an Elvis man. He was a teen in the ‘50s during rock and roll’s emergence and also a devout Catholic and Kirwin High student in Galveston. Dad trended to The King’s gospel side. Must have eased his Catholic guilt to hear songs like “Crying in the Chapel” and “How Great Thou Art” after jamming “Jailhouse Rock” and lusting to "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." With one foot cemented in the church and another swinging in sin, maybe he would have appreciated The Goddamn Gallows’ song “Y’all Motherfuckers Need Jesus,” which can probably be heard this Father’s Day at White Oak Music Hall when the longtime punk rock gutterbillies headline an upstairs show there with tourmates IV and the Strange Band. It’d be fun to bring Dad along to that one and have him see how rock and roll evolved from “Teddy Bear” and “Return to Sender” to the Gallows’ latest headbanging single, “Let’s Join a Cult!”
When I was a little older, heading into middle school, Dad would bring the family over to visit his compadre, Alex. Sunday afternoons were reserved for smoking meats in Alex’s charcoal pit and drinking cold brews (them, not us. Mostly my brother and I spent those Sundays pretending we were Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson with whatever Nerf football our mutt King had not chewed too badly). Once lunch was served and the football game was over, our parents and Alex and his wife snapped on the record player. Their favorites were bands like War, whose song “All Day Music” wasn’t just a hit, it was a vibe for the rest of the evening. From Jimmy Edwards to Rare Earth to Malo and Santana, we got a solid music education on those outings.
So, I know Dad would have been amazed and pleased to know a whole new generation of music lovers is keeping those “Sunday at comp’s house” grooves going via Chicano Boulevard. The collective’s DJs break out the record crates to spin "souldies" and Tejano classics at local watering holes like Rabbit’s Got the Gun. Even though Pops would have been very comfortable at that north downtown neighborhood bar (one of his son’s current favorites), I’d have introduced him to the act on July 1 at Continental Club. They’ll open that night by spinning their favorite platters ahead of Jason Joshua & the Beholders. Joshua performs the same mix of Latin soul and funk dad and his bestie enjoyed decades ago. He’d love the updated take on some favorite sounds.
Dad grew up in Galveston and we spent a lot of time there, especially at my mom’s parents’ house, where it was always a party, thanks to 11 siblings she had. So many cousins and uncles and aunts and friends – and beers. My grandfather worked for Pearl Brewing Company’s Galveston distributor so the suds were abundant back then. He later switched to Miller Lite, but Dad was always a beer man. He had no need for an old fashioned or tequila straight (that was Mom’s drink) as long as there was a good pilsner available.
He’d have loved the slate at Galveston Island Brewing, I’m sure. After living in Houston most of their adult lives, my folks moved back to Galveston for retirement and tried to soak up some of the island’s laid-backness. So, I’d have spent this Father’s Day weekend with him for at least a little celebrating GIB’s 9th anniversary (congrats, y’all!) and having him get in touch with his relaxed self by way of music. The brewery’s celebration bash is Saturday from noon ‘til 9p.m. with chill reggae island sounds provided by Dem Roots Music.
Dad was a huge fan of the 1970s singer-songwriter, whose folky, story-telling style was so good it lives on 50 years from the 1973 plane crash that prematurely ended his life. Listening to Croce while laying my head against an avocado green pillow tossed onto our orange shag carpeting (it was the ‘70s, folks), I learned what I loved most about music. It was the lyrics, the words that felt right and important, three dimensional against a backdrop of musical notes and melodies. Croce was the artist who ensured that any music I gleaned to in the years to come would say things that sparked inspiration in me. I love music and what I love about it has a lot more to do with my dad than I ever gave him credit for, I guess.
I wish I could have told him as much. Since I’m a dad now and get to celebrate my own day this weekend, I think I’ll try to get to one of these Houston music events. If I feel his presence there even momentarily, I’ll know he’s gotten my message of thanks all these years later.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.